Chevron’s Fake News as Public Relations

[Update: The trailer for “Crude” – the documentary Chevron attempted to get in front of to frame its reception by the public, is now available online.]

Scenario: An oil company has polluted a South American nation with 30 times the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster. A major news outlet is about to do an expose on the pending multi-million dollar lawsuit over the environmental damage. What’s a corporation to do?

Increase transparency by inviting citizens’ groups inside the organization to help improve policies procedures? Invest in infrastructure improvements? Offer to clean up the damage and donate to rainforest preservation efforts?

Naah – they just pay to produce their own favorable news report.

That’s precisely what Chevron just did. They hired former CNN anchor Gene Randall (laid off in 2001) to do an “investigation” into the disaster and resulting lawsuit to counteract a “60 Minutes” report that was about to drop with Chevron’s “side” of the story (featuring solely consultants, lawyers and experts on the Chevron payroll).

A few years ago, when the Bush Administration was illegally using taxpayer money to produce propaganda in support of its No Child Left Behind” and Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit programs, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) condemned the practice when it is not transparent that the “news” was not produced by an objective journalistic outfit. In fact, they specifically noted “PRSA recommends that organizations that prepare VNRs should not use the word “reporting” if the narrator is not a reporter.”

This is significant because in the Chevron propaganda piece, it opens with a key graphic “Gene Randal, Reporting” (that same graphic appears again later in the piece as Randall speaks while standing in front of a building in a trenchcoat), and the segment closes with Randall saying “this is Gene Randall, reporting” (a direct violation of PRSA’s standards). It also mimics the style of magazine-style investigative news programs, opening with Randall standing in front of a bank of monitors in a video editing room. Thus far, PRSA has not issued any statements about the effort, though they mentioned it in PR Tactics and Strategist Online.

The Chevron-produced piece (available here) fails to mention in the video who produced the piece (one must infer that from the profile of the user “TexacoEcuador”). The video puts the blame for the damage on PetroEcuador (inferring that Chevron cleaned up all of its environmental damage with a $40 million clean-up campaign back in the 1990s) and greedy “trial lawyers.” Not surprisingly, comments on all of the videos are disabled.

With disinformation tactics like this in such wide use and the investigative news media continually seeing declines in funding/staffing, it’s no wonder that 41 percent of the US population thinks that the threat of global climate change is exaggerated (up from 30 percent in 2006).

[Update: Bob Garfield of Media Matters Interviews Gene Randall on the Chevron Piece.]

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